Dandelion City: Observatoins of Shervone Neckles’ Wellness Cart / Bushra Rehman

I left Shervone Neckles’ Wellness Cart feeling, well… well. The sudden spring sunlight glowed outside, turning the cartoon-like blur of McDonalds, gold jewelers, and T-mobiles, into a backdrop for the glow happening inside me. I was hurrying to a train, but felt as if I was floating. What had I just witnessed? Generosity, Healing, the Power of Raspberry, Honeybush, Dandelion.

Ever since Neckles and I began to speak about her Creative Wellness Gatherings, I have been thinking of illness as a consequence of the oppressions we face as people of color in this country, and at the same the very real restraints of physical pain, which keeps us trapped in our patterns of hurt. On this day, I witnessed Neckles short circuit this cycle.

In an early conversation, Neckles told me of how she had returned to some of the herbs and remedies she had experienced in her Caribbean childhood in Brooklyn. After the birth of her son, her mother-in-law, a Dominican woman had also pressed herbs (Anise star, Eucalyptus, Cinnamon, Cloves, Lemon and Honey) on her to accelerate her healing. It was this realization, that our well-being can be found not only through an expensive, limiting and maze-like health care system, but through the plants we can grow, even in small gardens in the outer boroughs, that led to the project “Creative Wellness Gatherings.”

For Jamaica Flux, Neckles set up a cart on Jamaica Avenue. A simple but beautiful structure, a garden mobile, with a large ornate wheel. Inside were glass jars with different loose herbs for wellness tea blends; Raspberry Leaf, Nettle Root, Hibiscus Flower, Dandelion Root, Honeybush, Dried Carrot and Rooibos. She invited participants to make their own tea bags to take home, based on the ailments they were suffering from: Arthritis, Diabetes, Exhaustion. She also asked that they make an offering of a small sample of their tea to be a part of a community garment. Neckles intends to construct a wearable garment out of the participants’ offerings to commemorate the exchange, self-care, and nurturing that transpired at the Wellness Cart.

I witnessed and was deeply moved by the interactions, from the three women, long-time members of Jamaica, who settled themselves near the cart early on, enjoying the Wellness tea and talking about “The Tree of Life,” their community garden in Jamaica (Well right now, it’s Dandelion city), to the man with short dreads, an ankh necklace and a wisdom of herbs who took it upon himself to school us on the purpose of each one (Dandelions, if you have nothing else, you can live on Dandelion.) and to the countless participants of all ages who were thrown at first (This is free?), then pledged their support (I’ll come to your store.), then were thrown again (You don’t have a store?).  Each time Neckles shared that her only business was that of an artist. She shared this each time with a sense of joy and laughter. Everyone smiled and said they’d support her in that endeavor too.
As I walked back to the train, down Jamaica Avenue, I felt light, thinking of how generosity leads to more generosity, how care and well-being and avenues to healing don’t need to be tied to money, that life on Earth is painful sometimes but that if we open our eyes, put our hands back in the ground, the Tree of Life will provide.

Bushra Rehman

Bushra Rehman’s first novel Corona, a dark comedy about being South Asian American, was noted by Poets & Writers among 2013’s Best Debut Fiction and featured in LA Review of Books as a work of radical South-Asian American Literature. Rehman’s first Young Adult novel will be released by Tor/Macmillan in 2017.